Oslo, Norway - Electric cars represented almost one in five new vehicles registered in Norway in 2015, a market share unparallelled anywhere in the world thanks largely to consumer incentives few countries can match.

The Information Council for Road Traffic said almost 26 000 zero emission cars - all of them electric except for nine hydrogen vehicles - were registered last year in the Scandinavian country, out of a total of 150,700 private new cars, taking the electric-car market share from 12.5 percent in 2014 to 17.1 percent.

Christina Bu of the Norwegian Association for Electric Cars said: “Norway has an incredibly important role in this field. It is the North Star for what is going on in the rest of the world.”

Norway, which ironically enjoys abundant wealth from its North Sea oil and gas reserves, offers numerous incentives to encourage car-buyers to opt for clean vehicles.

While traditional cars are heavily taxed, electric car owners benefit from almost total tax exemptions, making them much more competitively priced.

The electric version of the Volkswagen Golf, the most popular zero emission car sold in Norway in 2014, retails for 254 000 kroner (R455 000), much cheaper than the equivalent diesel version which costs 327 000 kroner (R585 000).

Thanks to the tax breaks, about two-thirds of the electric Golfs made by VW are sold in Norway. The country is also the second-biggest market, behind the United States, for the Tesla S, a US luxury sedan now frequently seen on the streets of Oslo.

Electric car drivers also enjoy other perks, such as exemptions on road tolls, and, under certain conditions, the use of collective transport lanes and free parking.

Oslo will also shortly open what is likely to be the world's largest electric-car park, with 86 recharging stations available at no cost.

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Other countries trail far behind Norway. In France, where the government offers €10 000 (R174 000) to car owners who swap their old diesel for a new electric car, the latter represented just 0.9 percent of new car registrations in 2015.

In the Netherlands, another country that has been successful at encouraging green vehicles, electric cars represented two percent of new car registrations in the first 11 months of 2015. According to ING, the country's biggest bank, that share is expected to rise to seven percent by 2020.

“It's a little difficult for other countries to copy Norway,“ Bu noted, “because they don't have the same high taxation of traditional cars.

“But there are a lot of aspects of Norway's policies that could be copied without posing budgetary problems, such as allowing green motorists to drive in bus lanes: it doesn't cost anything and it could even make traffic flow better,” she said.

After Norway reached its goal last year of having 50,000 electric cars rolling on its roads, the country now plans to very gradually reduce some of its incentives, controversial because of their high cost.

However, Volkswagen Norway spokeswoman Anita Svanes said: “We are hoping and counting on the incentive measures remaining in place for a while, until this new technology has taken solid root and is really competitive without the benefits.

“It will take a while before production volumes reach a level where the electric car is as competitive as other cars,” she added.

AFP